Former TTC chair Adam Giambrone is joining the race to represent Scarborough-Guildwood at Queen's Park, re-entering politics after a nearly three-year hiatus and adding his name to the list of star candidates vying for seats in the provincial legislature.
Mr. Giambrone secured the New Democrat nomination on Sunday for the Scarborough seat, one of five ridings that will be filled in by-elections on Aug. 1.
The 36-year-old told The Globe and Mail that he is the person to fight for transit expansion to Scarborough, pointing to his record as TTC chair, which included adding bus service and overseeing the Transit City light rail project, which includes three lines planned to serve the area.
He accused the province's Liberal government, which cancelled two of the lines and eventually revived them, of mishandling the file.
"Scarborough is a place where I was very active when I was at the TTC, and a place where we started building," he said. "We were very active getting transit into Scarborough. The Liberals have delayed that."
He also pledged that he would fight for transit funding that does not force the middle class to bear the costs. Premier Kathleen Wynne's government is exploring methods of financing a $50-billion subway, LRT and commuter rail expansion plan, including taxes, tolls and development levies.
But Mr. Giambrone said the money could be found within the existing budget or in raising revenue from corporations.
"I've been quite strong on the opinion that the province needs to step up to the table," he said. "The Liberals have talked a lot about transit. I haven't seen the results."
Mr. Giambrone will be up against Liberal Mitzie Hunter, CEO of city-building organization CivicAction, and Progressive Conservative Ken Kirupa, a real estate agent.
Last week, Liberal insiders said their main concern in the by-election is Mr. Kirupa.
But that tone changed abruptly on Sunday. Within hours of Mr. Giambrone's nomination, Scarborough MPP Brad Duguid fired off a statement on behalf of the Grits accusing Mr. Giambrone, who represented west end Davenport on city council, of having "no connection" to Scarborough.
Ms. Hunter told The Globe and Mail last week that she grew up in central Scarborough and attended the University of Toronto Scarborough, but does not live in the riding.
The NDP countered that Mr. Giambrone was familiar with the neighbourhood from his time at the TTC.
Nonetheless, Scarborough-Guildwood is certain to be an uphill battle for the NDP. The Liberals cruised to victory there in the last provincial election, with the NDP a distant third behind the Tories.
Mr. Giambrone sounded confident about his chances, pointing to his party's upset win in a Kitchener-Waterloo by-election last fall.
"You know how elections can go – tens of thousands of votes can shift," he said. "I wouldn't take anything for granted."
Once the golden boy of Toronto's left, Mr. Giambrone was president of the federal NDP in his mid-20s, was elected to city council at 26, and took over the TTC at 29.
A top lieutenant of former mayor David Miller, Mr. Giambrone ran to replace him in 2010, but abruptly quit the race after admitting he cheated on his then girlfriend, to whom he is now married.
Since his council term ended in 2010, Mr. Giambrone has worked as a transit consultant, advising both the city of Milwaukee and the agency that runs commuter trains in the Montreal area. He also writes a column for the alternative weekly Now Magazine.
Scarborough-Guildwood, which became vacant when former cabinet minister Margarett Best announced her resignation, is a largely blue-collar constituency in Toronto's eastern inner suburbs.
It is one of five ridings left empty by Liberal resignations in recent months.
A slew of high-profile candidates have stepped forward to contest them, with Toronto deputy mayor Doug Holyday, a PC, facing off against Liberal councillor Peter Milczyn in Etobicoke-Lakeshore. Ken Coran, a former leader of the secondary school teachers' union, is carrying the Liberal standard in London-West, and Windsor councillor Percy Hatfield is running for the NDP in Windsor Tecumseh.